The Shock of The New

The Apple Store in Minneapolis on the morning of March 16, 2011. Photo by Todd O'Dowd.

Living in Uptown has its advantages: lots of excitement, plenty of amenities including a lake, three grocery stores, a music store, various restaurants, and more all within walking distance of my house, etc. (It has many disadvantages but that’s another post for another time.) But one of my favorite advantages is the fact that there is an Apple store two blocks from my house. As a devoted catholic* who lights candles at the altar of Pope Steve Jobs, the saint of Cupertino, the thought that there is a bastion of hip computing (complete with de rigueur hip, attractive people working and shopping there) is at my fingertips is pretty awesome.  (Mind you the fact that it is built on the site of the former Uptown Bar has the music fan in me quite conflicted, but again that’s another tale for another time.)  

So, as I was walking to my stop this morning to catch the bus to work, I turned and saw this slightly disturbing site at 8:30 am.  There was a line halfway down the block for people waiting in the chilly spring air to get their hands on the iPad 2.  While I can understand people wanting to get it (and believe me I do get it: heck GarageBand for iPad 2 alone is worth it), the sight of those people lined up days after the release still hoping beyond hope for the new toy left me rather conflicted.  Don’t get me wrong; I understand that in terms of technology today’s state-of-the-art is tomorrow’s obsolescence. And as unsettling as a sight as this was (I can still vividly remember the mad assaults for Cabbage Patch Kids back in the day) it is a testament to Apple’s mighty hype machine in turning the public practically Pavlovian anytime something new, bright, and shiny is unleashed on the public from the house of Jobs.

However, one thing I have learned in working with clients and projects is that new does not guarantee success.  When clients come to me saying they want something “completely new” with a concept or PR approach or logo design or event scheme, I always have a slight sense of dread. It’s not that I don’t like kicking over the proverbial apple cart (pun intended), but I’ve learned that always throwing new on top of new with no sense of building on what has gone before does not give a business what it needs to thrive: loyalty.

Remember back when Apple launched the very first Macintosh in 1984 (with possibly one of the greatest commercials of all time)? It was a risky move as it was such a game changer for the company.  But what most people fail to remember is that after releasing the first Macintosh, for several years the “New” Macintosh was a refinement of the last generation that kept building a loyal base of users until 1987 with their next game-changing shift; the Macintosh II (the first expandable Mac).  This can be tracked with pretty much every single technical product out there.  For example, the shift from from Adobe CS2 to CS3 was a huge development since CS3 was after Adobe acquired Macromedia, incorporated Flash and DreamWeaver into the Creative Suite, redesigned all the user interfaces across the board modeled after Macromedia’s more intuitive and functional ones, and (most importantly) radically improved functionality and cross-polonization between all the various components in the suite.  CS4 and CS5 have had their changes to be sure, but nothing as major as the shift from CS2 to CS3.

One of my design heroes, Massimo Vignelli, once said this about equity in logo design in his book Canon.  While he’s talking about design (and if you can track the book down, I highly recommend it – it’s a gorgeous read and a master class in typography and layout), this can easily apply to any PR/media/social media/event planning approach:

Many times we have been asked to design a logo or a symbol for a Company – often at the request of the marketing department to refresh the Company’s position in the marketplace. Although this may be a legitimate request, very often, it is motivated by the desire of change merely for the sake of change, and that is a very wrong motivation.

A real Corporate Identity is based on an overall system approach, not just a logo. A logo gradually becomes part of our collective culture; in its modest way it becomes part of all of us. Think of Coca Cola, think of Shell, or, why not, AmericanAirlines. When a logo has been in the public domain for more than fifty years it becomes a classic, a landmark, a respectable entity and there is no reason to throw it away and substitute it with a new concoction, regardless of how well it has been designed.

Perhaps, because I grew up in a country where history and vernacular architecture were part of culture of the territory and was protected, I considered established logos something to be equally protected.

The Point: If you’re going to make a big change in concept, really think it through.  Don’t necessarily throw everything out but find ways to build on what you already have.  And if you must make a major change, be prepared to stay the course and see it through to build equity with your audience.

* The Catholic joke was a joke a buddy of mine came up with about how Apple devotees are so hip but they’re very Catholic in their thinking in believing in the one true church of Apple, while PC users are Protestants (complete with a host of different denominations or makers of PCs).


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